ANAHEIM, Calif. – Texas Tech has the No. 1 defense in the country.
KenPom and the analytics say so. Even the old-school data like field-goal percentage defense and points allowed support the Red Raiders.
It’s really not that close. Michigan is second in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, and the Wolverines were destroyed 63-44 by Texas Tech on Thursday.
Gonzaga has the best offense in the nation.
The Zags make 53.2 percent of their shots, nearly 3 percentage points higher than Dayton. Their 88.8 points per game is roughly two points higher than the closest competition.
“No. 1 defense, No. 1 offense, it’s a matchup everybody probably wants to see,” Gonzaga senior point guard Josh Perkins said. “I’m a confident dude and I know my teammates are confident. I’m rocking with the No. 1 offense, for sure.”
No. 1 seed Gonzaga (33-3) and No. 3 Texas Tech (29-6) will spend 40 minutes today at the Honda Center trying to determine who’s No. 1 in the West Region and bound for the Final Four.
There’s no mystery to Texas Tech’s defensive approach. The Big 12 co-regular-season champions try to keep the ball on one side of the floor, keep the ball out of the middle, harass guards, guard the 3-point line and protect the rim.
The Red Raiders have held 13 foes below 55 points. They’re giving up 53 points on 35.6-percent shooting in three NCAA Tournament wins.
“How well they move together on defensive end,” Gonzaga wing Zach Norvell Jr. said. “Sometimes they’re all in sync; it’s pretty cool, actually, watching it. Just understanding what they want to do and have counters to it.”
That might be easier said than done.
“They don’t really have a weak link,” said GU assistant coach Brian Michaelson, who compiled the scouting report. “Some of the other teams we played it was, ‘Hey, that guy is a scorer, you can go at him,’ or, ‘He’s a really small guard or a slow big,’ whatever it was. Almost every team had some weakness. They don’t have that 1 through 8 (in the rotation).”
Michigan’s All-Big Ten point guard Zavier Simpson didn’t score and had one assist in 35 minutes against Texas Tech. The Wolverines made 1 of 19 3-point shots. They had nearly as many turnovers (14) as field goals (16).
Texas Tech allowed 70-plus points just four times this season.
“They have guards with great hands and toughness,” Michaelson said. “They have length on the wings, especially with (Jarrett) Culver. (Norense) Odiase is a big body and athletic, and (forward Tariq) Owens is an elite shot blocker, probably right there in the same category as BC (Brandon Clarke).”
The 6-foot-5 Culver is the main attraction, a complete player and projected lottery pick. Norvell said a fair comparison would be Duke standout freshman wing RJ Barrett.
Culver arrived a few moments after the rest of Texas Tech’s contingent to Friday’s press conference. “Culver’s here,” said head coach Chris Beard, leading an ovation joined by the four other Red Raiders starters as a sheepish Culver took a seat.
The standout sophomore guard took some more good-natured ribbing during the 15-minute session, with his improved shooting form drawing praise. But Owens added, “I can vouch for (his) losses in shooting drills.”
The X-factor for Gonzaga could be its defense, which has gone from a liability during a stretch of December games to No. 13 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency rankings after muzzling Florida State 72-58.
“I would say our defense won the first three games of this tournament,” coach Mark Few said.
That may be the case again, but the offense is going to have to do its part, too. Michaelson said Texas Tech doesn’t allow opponents to simply pick out a play and run it.
Gonzaga’s frontcourt of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke has produced all season, but the Red Raiders will attempt to disrupt the offense before reaching those options, focusing on the guards and Perkins.
“They’re really good defensively, I can’t lie,” Perkins said. “But there’s definitely some stuff you can exploit them on. Our secret is we have a full team. You have to guard 1 through 5 on the court at all times. As a defense, that’s hard to do.
“Just doing what we do, sticking to the game plan, making shots, exploiting mismatches and taking care of the ball.”
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.